The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) is seeking a commitment from Government that the forthcoming budget will "assist in creating an equal Ireland".
In its pre-budget submission -'The Cost of Surviving' - launched today, the society has set out a series of proposals which it believes must be addressed to help struggling families and the level of poverty in Ireland.
Last year, SVP received 191,000 requests for help and provided assistance to the tune of €14.6 million for people who could not afford food; €4.7 million in supporting access to education and €4.1 million for those struggling with their utility costs.
Minimum standard of living
In advocating the case for an equal Ireland, SVP cites a weekly gap of €49 between core social welfare rates and the cost of a minimum essential standard of living; 200,000 children living in enforced deprivation; 29 per cent of renters worried about eviction in the next six months; 25 per cent of parents getting into debt to cover back-to-school costs; 37 per cent cutting back on essential heating and electricity due to rising costsm and over 250,000 customers in arrears on their electricity bills.
SVP National president Rose McGowan said: “As a country we believe in showing compassion towards others and helping and protecting each other from harm. Yet, right now, too many live in poverty and many more risk falling into the trap. We all share a moral responsibility to ensure that everyone in our country has a decent standard of living.
“We do not underestimate the challenges faced by policymakers at this time and understand that there are no easy choices. However, all choices must be underpinned by the principles of equality and social justice."
As well as investment in services in Budget 2023, SVP is calling for an increase in social protection payments ahead of projected inflation to ensure that people on low and fixed incomes can stay afloat "in a sea of rising living costs and to prevent a rise in poverty".
"To do this an increase of €20 in primary payments, €12 for children over 12 years and €7 for children under 12 years is required. To address the growing issue of energy poverty, SVP is calling for an expansion of the fuel allowance to low-income working families."
Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP head of social justice, said: “Investment in essential services like housing, childcare and education must go hand in hand with a social protection system that is strong enough to keep people out of poverty while out of work, living with an illness or disability, caring for a loved one, on low pay or in retirement. We know this is possible, but we need to see Government make the right choices in Budget 2023.”
SVP says it is critical that Government "commit to benchmarking social welfare payments and minimum wages to an adequate level and in-line with living costs in the longer term".
The key priorities for Budget 2023 proposed by SVP include:
Housing and Homelessness
- Increase the social housing target under Housing for All and provide funding to bring vacant properties back into use.
- End the practice of unaffordable top-ups on the Housing Assistance Payments.
- Establish a joint budget line between the Department of Housing and the Department of Social Protection to address the issue of rent arrears.
- Implement the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision to ensure all those seeking international protection can live in the community.
- Expand the Housing First programme for families experiencing homelessness.
- Unlock free early years care and education and after-school care to all low-income families.
- Provide genuinely free primary and secondary education to all students by increasing the capitation grants to end “voluntary” contributions.
- Support children experiencing educational disadvantage in non-DEIS schools.
- Ensure that children with additional needs can access the supports they need by increasing support through NEPS and early intervention teams.
- Make SUSI fit for purpose by increasing the grant rate and thresholds and expanding it to part-time students.
- Increase social welfare rates by €20 per week to address the rising cost of living and make progress towards providing a decent standard of living. Prevent child poverty by raising the incomes of the poorest families.
- Introduce an additional social welfare payment to provide for the cost of disability.
- Implement the social protection measures in the White Paper on Ending Direct Provision.
- Make work pay by increasing the thresholds for the Working Family Payment and supporting working lone parents up until their youngest child finishes school.
- Ensure low-income households can meet unexpected expenses by improving accessibility of the Additional Needs Payment Scheme.
Energy and Climate Change
- Increase the Fuel Allowance payment by €15 per week and expand the payment period to 32 weeks.
- Expand the Fuel Allowance to those in receipt of the Working Family Payment.
- Increase investment in the retrofit of social housing and expand schemes to HAP tenants on a pilot basis.
- Pilot a programme of Community Energy Advisors.
- Invest in the Rural Transport Programme.